Liberals Have A Problem With Cruelty


Paul Sancya / AP

The cruelty of liberals denigrating the generalized Trump voter reveals a doomed loyalty to capitalism.

No, this isn’t a post claiming “This is why Trump won.” This isn’t a post in the dead-horse-beating industry that is white liberals figuring out more ways the Trump election was their fault and more ways to self-flagellate and feel guilty. This is not a post about my satisfaction at having figured it out and blaming all you lesser liberals for having made this happen.

Liberals have a problem with cruelty that extends beyond this recent election but that has since erupted in a clear, exemplified way. Take a look at the comments section on any left-leaning analysis on coal country or rural Appalachia or any of a hundred “Sorry to pierce your bubble but do you want to meet one of these mythological Trump voter?” pieces as published by The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. What you’ll find is a comment, probably with many likes, from a liberal, usually white, usually male, usually well-educated and seemingly secure person, denigrating a whole populace that supposedly voted for Trump.

“Hah, coal country can finally take its medicine. The industry has been dead for years and it’s time they wake up. The deluded masses thought Trump will save them but it’s time to move on. Time for these boot-strappers to get an education, get skills, and keep up with the modern economy.”

The ostensible left quickly becomes fearsomely capitalistic when it suits the emotional needs of their satisfaction and vindication.

Never mind that many of these people struggle to maintain a job, to keep working and eating, to sustain. Never mind their children. Never mind the multitude of them that are disabled or sick or injured or exploited.

Fuck them, right?

This is a case of white, educated liberals who believe themselves secure denigrating the desperate and the abused for their own precariousness. It’s rich people mocking the poor.

Empathy, the value to which we purporteto aspire, is immediately abandoned. All of a sudden, it makes perfect sense to demand a fifty year old man, barely able to put food on the table for his family, somehow go back to a school that is somehow available to him and somehow get new skills quickly enough to somehow earn a new living wage in a new industry that is somehow immediately available to him. It defies logic and possibility.

They’d like to disguise this under a self-righteous vindication, this population supposedly gifting America Trump and thus deserving this fate. But this fate would have come just as swiftly with Clinton or any number of Democrats. And further, this is a fate that already befalls a multitude of marginalized groups every day but is for the white liberal a distant, abstract effect. Even as they denigrate the Trump voter as racist to justify their cheering of capitalism, they support the same system that has so efficiently absorbed racism into its workings and just as easily squeezes the humanity out of other, more diverse industries as well.

The threat of job dissipation is as imminent, unimaginable, and inevitable as the threat of climate change. Just as we cannot seem to slow emission, we seem unable to slow the capitalistic growth that devours jobs in the maw of efficiency. Before we even argue the inevitability of mass automation, which I do consider a likely future, we should understand that the growth of capitalism has already outpaced the growth of humanity.

We have citizens who have worked for decades in certain industries who have had their entire livelihoods taken away from them. We abandon them with little social safety net, little security, and no practical way to renter the economy at a different point. We train people to search for security and then abandon them in the same moment we steal that security away.

At a certain point, the economy stopped serving people and we started serving the economy. When liberals jump to denigrate these workers, they jump to the side of rampant growth, exhorting the economy to outgrow a segment of its population.

The ostensible liberal cheers for capitalism, thinking that he is the exception or the exceptional, that he will either be spared or his intellect or skills or education will vault him over the wave.

But meritocracy is merciless and merit is measured not by worth or character, as this liberal cruelty would imply, but by merit as a profit-making engine. Whoever cannot maintain the circuit that completes the cycle of profit will just as easily be left to the side. Even one trains, in school and life, for the capacity to make profit may eventually find that industry gone. Though we must disagree as forcefully as possible with the decisions made out of desperation, we can’t denigrate the desperation itself.

We need to offer a compelling alternative, a vision of the world that includes them–not by abandoning identity politics but by embracing it in more profoundly radical ways. Interests and identities are not schemas existing a priori in the world, the “white working class” permanently cleaved from the “liberal bubble” or the “urban diverse,” but alliances to be forged through practice and struggle. Interests are organized and built, not discovered; identities are crafted, not consumed.

Liberal cruelty is the manifestation of a latent attachment to capitalism, an unfounded faith that the machinery will destroy your enemies but spare you. Despite their profound electoral mistakes, even the poorest, most desperate Trump voter knows something the most educated liberal doesn’t. Long term, this is no longer about stigma, pride, or jobs. This is about survival.

If the left is to be emergent, if millennials want to push this future forward, we need to emphasize the practice of building interests, forging connections, and organizing movements. Denigrating the poor is not only cruel but a waste of time. The future we’re building rises above petty vindication, above politics as a game with gloating winners and sore losers. We’re in it for the sake of humanity, to save and enhance human life. That’s the vision in which our politics must ultimately be rooted.



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